Sunday, May 22, 2011

Finally, a Japanese buffet: Tokyo House.

VEGGIE ROLL:  Packed and ready to go at Tokyo House
  • VEGGIE ROLL: Packed and ready to go at Tokyo House
Little Rock has good sushi places, a lot of them. It has some halfway decent buffets. And there are some buffets where you’ll find sushi. Just about every buffet that features sushi — is at a Chinese restaurant.
For those who have really been looking forward to gorging themselves on Japanese food, there’s great news. Tokyo House caters to folks who like sushi in large amounts — and who might want a little yakisoba or shumai, too.
The buffet at Tokyo House is really two buffets — a sushi-heavy buffet featuring cold items upstairs and a heated Japanese grilled and tempura-heavy buffet down in the back. In fact, on my first visit I noticed two of my dining companions completely failed to notice the second buffet tucked away in the back. I smelled it… roasted meats, seafood items and the lure of dumplings pulled me back to the back to check things out there, too.
Not to say that just sushi wouldn’t draw people in. I know folks who have been going to Panda Garden since it opened in 2008 who have likely never eaten from the hot tables, preferring instead to knosh on California and Philly Rolls and the occasional Volcano roll and a few hand-formed fish-topped nigiri amidst the maki.
They’ll about fall out of their hats when they enter Tokyo House and see the sushi buffet. Two sides of the square sushi bar are dedicated to maki rolls — not just spicy tuna and California and crunchy shrimp and vegetable —
but Spicy Mama, Green River, Rainbow and Redhead Rolls. A dozen or more varieties line the two sides. There are also clean, neat nigiri of crabstick, shrimp, mackeral, tuna, salmon and squid; special stands hold temaki cones full of fish and rice and vegetables; gunkanmaki pockets topped with roe. It’s an excellent selection.
Along the other two sides are various cold dishes — salad greens and ginger dressing, octopus salad, orange slices, peel-and-eat shrimp, raw vegetables, edamame, cold shrimp salad and seaweed salad. There are condiments — wasabi paste, cocktail sauce, sliced ginger. The upper buffet really does cover just about anything a casual sushi 
eater would enjoy.
And then there’s the heated buffet, a triangular shaped buffet in the back. Two sides contain hot dishes: dumplings, shumai, grilled fish steaks of various sorts, grilled calamari, fish balls on sticks, barbecued beef and shrimp, yakisoba noodles with red onions. There was hibachi steak with broccoli, crab cakes, something called Honey Moon and a Dynamite Roll sliced and deep fried. There were piles of tempura-battered shrimp, tempura battered vegetables and little clams cooked with jalapeno slices. There were spring rolls. There were soups. Along the shortest wall there were dessert items such as mango, red bean and coconut puddings; fresh fruit and small slices of cake.
Did I mention this was the lunch buffet?
So, how was it? It was fantastically good. I didn’t encounter anything I outright didn’t like (though I couldn’t make it through an entire portion of red bean pudding after an initial visit to both bars).
My three dining companions were all quite pleased with themselves.
What did strike me was the service. We went the second day the restaurant was open — and the service was incredible. Our waiter was very attentive, and other members of the staff would come by and ask if we were pleased with our selections. There were gentlemen in the hot buffet area answering questions, and the sushi chef on duty happily filled requests.
And when we were coming to the end of our meal, our waiter asked us if we would like ice cream — chocolate, vanilla, strawberry or green tea. It was hand-dipped and it was in just the right portion.
So yes, on my first visit I was thrilled with Tokyo House. I am planning to go back and see what’s for dinner, though — because the place advertises itself as a sushi and seafood joint, and while there were seafood items on the buffet I suspect there’s far more seafood at night. Besides, some restaurants do their lunch and evening buffets in completely different manners.
Lunch is $9.95. Dinner is $18.95. Drinks aren’t included in the price — do be prepared for that. There are also a selection of maki rolls you can order ranging up to $14. If they’re anything like what you see on the menu, they’re artistic delights. Still, considering all the neat rolls they already offer on the buffet, I can’t imagine why you’d order more — unless you just really want to impress someone.
Tokyo House is on Shackleford Drive across from Cozymel’s. It’s open seven days a week at 11 a.m. Lunch buffet runs until 3:30 and dinner buffet begins at 5 p.m. It wraps up at 8:30 Sunday through Thursday and 9:30 Friday and Saturday… the restaurant closes a bit after that. (501) 219-4286.

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